When is the best time to make a split?

One of my honeybee hives building up the colony this spring. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of my honeybee hives building up the colony this spring. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

“I want to split two of my honeybee hives this year but I don’t know when I should do it. I still would like to get some honey so when is a best time to make a split?” — Lily

When Is The Best Time to Make A Split

Hi Lily,

The answer to your question is actually in your question. You said you want to split two of your honeybee hives but you also want to get honey this year so the best time for you to split is after the nectar flow.

If you want honey this year, you want your bee colonies to be strong so they can collect enough flower nectar to dehydrated into honey for their winter use as well as extra for you. To do that, they need lots of foragers taking advantage of temperatures between 75F and 85F, when flowers produce nectar to attract pollinators.

If you split now during the nectar flow, your bee colonies will have less bees to forage for flower nectar, which means you will need to monitor them to make sure they have enough honey stored to make it through winter. Usually split colonies do not have enough bees to make extra honey.

Once the nectar flow is over, you can then split the colonies and continue feeding them a nectar-like sugar water mixture. The sugar water mixture will keep their wax glands stimulated so they build wax on the new frames and also have ready sugar water they can dehydrate and store for winter. You don’t want to harvest this stored sugar water for your use because it is not honey.

Hope this helps you as you decide how to manage your honeybees!


When Are You a "Beekeeper"

One way to celebrate officially becoming a beekeeper! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One way to celebrate officially becoming a beekeeper! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

“…I took one of your beekeeping classes a couple of years but still can’t keep a hive alive….don’t call myself a beekeeper but my friends do…When is someone a beekeeper???” — Name Withheld by request

When Are You a Beekeeper

Hi, at your request I am withholding your name. Your question is an important one and deserves some context.

First, this may be one of the more challenging times in beekeeping history to keep bees. Pathogens spread by the varroa mite, loss of habitat and poor nutrition challenge honeybees as well as our native pollinators. The good news is that if we do something for one group we will help the rest.

Secondly, no two years of beekeeping are alike so learning to be a beekeeper is constantly evolving and challenging. A good beekeeper is amateur biologist tinkering in genetics; a gardener; a pet owner and in larger quantities, a farmer specializing in animal husbandry practices. If one is running a business from the bees, then add all of those specialties associated with a business. It’s no wonder keeping honeybees is not for everyone.

That’s why you will find Missouri now has 45 local bee clubs, up from the 5 local bee clubs that were around 10 years ago. Attending bee club meetings is a good way to learn the terminology, pick up on suggestions, meet other beekeepers and, if you look closely enough, find a bee buddy who will share the adventure with you.

There’s also a new tool for those beginning to keep bees. Kim Flotum, senior editor with Bee Culture Magazine, has also started a quarterly magazine designed to help beginning beekeepers. BEEkeeping is $20/year and covers those initial overwhelming topics.

Back to your original question. Rolla Bee Club has a simple answer to that question, we say you can call yourself a beekeeper after you pull a colony through winter. It can take beginning beekeepers a couple of years to do that since the learning curve can be steep but we are not governing the bees, we are working with them to support them. That means we have to learn their world and their way of doing things.

I know you well enough to say don’t give up, you have a lovely garden and a caring spirit. Learn from your mistakes. Ask questions about what went wrong, what you can do differently and try again.

In my humble opinion after 9 years of lessons with my bees, they are more than worth it!


"Would you bring your hives to my property...."

One of my hives, this one at the end of the vegetable garden before I fixed the concrete blocks.

One of my hives, this one at the end of the vegetable garden before I fixed the concrete blocks.

"Would you bring your hives to my property?"

Periodically I am asked to either bring my honeybee hives to someone's property or to find beekeepers who would be willing to bring their hives to someone's property to pollinate their - blueberry, elderberry or whatever crops - for free. In a couple of emails, the property owners wanted to charge the beekeepers for rent to bring the hives to their land so let's go over a few basics here.

First, beekeepers have invested tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, bees, education and time by the time they have sustainable bee colonies. Yes, beekeeping is expensive, even if you build your own hives and catch swarms.

Secondly, beekeepers that do provide pollination services do have bees they can bring but they also charge for those services, sometimes a monthly fee or a charge per crop being pollinated. Most crops that require pollination have short windows where they need pollination services, which is why the major beekeeping companies spend 6 months on the road moving colonies all around the country. The pollination services season starts with pollinating almond fields in February, one if not the largest movement of bee colonies nationwide with a good 60% of North American bees going west.

A recent study February 2019 found that bees in California almond fields were dying not only because the blooming almond trees were sprayed when in bloom but they were mixing herbicides and fungicides that impacted the bees.

In addition to the stress of moving, honeybees can also get exposed to toxic chemicals applied within a 5 mile radius of where the hives are located. There is no antidote to pesticide, herbicide and fungicide exposure. The beekeeper takes that risk when they move a colony into a new area, not the property owner.

That's not to say there aren't beekeepers who would be willing to bring hives onto someone's property but the property has to have excellent bee forage plants to make it worthwhile, and those lands are few and far between. Most Missouri land has been overgrazed and over-farmed so unless the property owner is working to restore the soil conditions and planting crops to provide a continuous flower source through the growing season, most property doesn't provide bees with nutritious pollen.

A friend of mine has moved several of his hives to friend’s property only to have them die out for lack of food.

In some areas, like St. Louis, there are now "Adopt a Hive" programs where beekeepers either bring in a hive to someone's property for a fee, and then provide some honey at the end of the season provided there is extra honey. I understand there are some issues with this program because some of the hives are not properly maintained, bees disappear and property owners end up without honey even if bees pull through the season. It's not uncommon for a colony not to have extra honey after the first year at a new site but non-beekeepers still expect to get honey out of a hive.

The best arrangement was one I heard about a couple of years ago where the property owner and beekeeper split the cost of the hives and bees. The beekeeper set up the hives on the property and managed them, then at the end of the season the property owner and the beekeeper worked together to extract and split the honey. The arrangement worked so well the bees were left on the property to winter over until the next year.

So would I bring my hives to someone's property? Sorry no, I like having my girls close by where I can keep an eye on them. I started keeping bees for pollination myself and I enjoy seeing my bees visiting my flowers throughout the season. It also gives me a great excuse to keep planting and developing my one-acre hillside garden, not that I need another reason to buy flowers on sale!

Have you been asked to bring hives to someone's property for free?


Christmas Beekeeping Book

Two of Sue Hubbell books that would make wonderful Christmas gifts.

Two of Sue Hubbell books that would make wonderful Christmas gifts.

"...love your stories about beekeeping, you remind me of Sue Hubbell. Have you read her books? Would you recommend them? Looking for a Christmas gift idea for my wife, she's a beekeeper...." - Paul

Christmas Beekeeping Book

Hi Paul, 

What a lovely compliment, thank you, you've made my day. A friend introduced me to Sue Hubbell before I was a beekeeper. She was first a librarian, which explains her rich literary references but it's her willingness to be honest about life's challenges that appealed to me in her writing.

Hubbell has authored a number of books but the one I would recommend as a Christmas gift for a beekeeper is her "A Book of Bees." This book describes her caring for 300 hives in "the Ozarks," a place yet to be identified although some say it was around the Doniphan, Missouri area.

Some of the information is out of date but her description of spending days in bee yards having her lunch on a sunny hillside listening to the hives humming is something every beekeeper will related to, regardless.

Another book, if you want to give a second one, is "A Country Year," which covers her living in the Ozarks and the lessons she learned trying to be self-sustaining. There are life lessons in this one, too that have little to do with actually farming the land.

Amazon offered these books in "used" condition the last time I checked, and if you can't get them here by Christmas you can give a card that says these books are on their way.

One of the few illustrations in Sue Hubbell's "A Book of Bees"

One of the few illustrations in Sue Hubbell's "A Book of Bees"

My grandmother gave us books at Christmas growing up and to this day I like having a special book to enjoy for Christmas. No surprise then that I think your idea of giving her one, or both of these books, is a lovely idea.

Merry Christmas, Paul!


Top Beekeeping Gift Idea

Leather gloves are important beekeeping safety equipment, these have been well worn.

Leather gloves are important beekeeping safety equipment, these have been well worn.

"If you had one beekeeping gift idea, what would it be?" -- Cheryl

Top Beekeeping Gift Idea

Hi Cheryl, my top beekeeping gift idea is a good pair of goat leather beekeeping gloves. You can find them at most farm and home centers that carry basic beekeeping equipment. If they don't have goat skin, then cow leather will work, the idea is you want gloves made from something that will make it hard for a bee to sting through it.

You certainly can give bee hives and tools but a pair of gloves is not only special but personal. Every beekeeper should have a pair of these heavy duty leather beekeeping gloves as part of their safety equipment. Not all beekeepers use them all of the time but when they are needed, there is no other substitute.

Local Honey Jar

If you want to add a little something more, or looking for something for a stocking, how about a jar of honey from one of your local beekeepers. 

A hive tool is another basic beekeeper's tool, no beekeeper ever has too many.

A hive tool is another basic beekeeper's tool, no beekeeper ever has too many.

Beekeeper Hive Tool

Another gift option is to add a beekeeper's "hive tool," the basic metal shaped tool to open hives and move frames. Every beekeeper needs at least 2 because inevitably one is left in the garden, or worse yet, inside a hive, and we really can't do much without one.

If you are buying for someone starting out, you can't go wrong with picking one that fits your gift budget. 

Ship Overnight after December 10

Some suppliers may also be able to get you a pair shipped in time for Christmas. After December 10, I recommend shipping overnight since shipping carriers are very busy with orders and they can't guarantee delivery by Christmas after December 10.

And no, a good pair of gardening gloves will not work well for beekeeping, trust me.

Merry Christmas!